Survey report shows
Bangladesh’s apparel workers saw their salaries edged up 10 per cent annually between 2014 and 2020, found a recent survey.
However, a note of concern also rose as the employment growth of female workers in the country's apparel sector, long considered a women-driven sector, declined 0.7 per cent annually since 2015.
The proportion of female workers to their male counterparts has also seen a change: from 65 per cent in 2015 to 59 per cent in 2020, according to the survey styled “Socioeconomic Profile of Garment Workers of Bangladesh”, conducted by the Asian Centre for Development.
The findings of the survey -- for which 1,119 workers from 160 factories located in Dhaka, Gazipur, Savar, Narayanganj and Chittagong were interviewed -- was unveiled on Saturday at a webinar moderated by Zafar Sobhan, editor of Dhaka Tribune.
Despite the percentage dip, 80 per cent of the surveyed workers expressed their satisfaction with their respective workplaces, in terms of the working environment, lighting, emergency exits, washroom facilities and canteen facilities.
Total employment in the sector has recorded over 1 per cent growth.
In terms of cost of living and income, the survey result shows that there has been an annual increase in family income by 7 per cent between 2014 to 2020, while the overall cost of living also rose by 7 per cent during that period.
This rise in the cost of living is led by a higher rise in the cost of education, health, personal expenditure (like cosmetics and other items) and recreation.
However, the rise in housing expenditure was only 2 per cent and food expenditure was 4 per cent.
This indicates that changes in their family income enabled them to improve their lifestyle as they have been able to spend more on non-food items.
At the end of 2020, the total number of apparel workers stood at 4.22 million, the survey estimated.
"Our estimate suggests that between 2015 and 2020, the number of apparel workers in Bangladesh has grown by 1.07 per cent per year," said AK Enamul Haque, executive director of the ACD, in his keynote presentation.
The growth rate is positive for male workers at about 4 per cent and for female workers, it is 0.7 per cent negative per year.
It also shows that the number of female workers has grown between 2 to 4 per cent each year, while the number of male workers has grown by 7 to 10 per cent during the same period, Haque said.
As per the estimation, out of the total 4.22 million apparel workers, 1.72 million are male and 2.50 million female.
From that total, nearly 20 per cent are employed in knitwear factories, 20 per cent in sweater manufacturing, and 51 per cent in woven factories.
However, Mapped in Bangladesh (MiB) data contradicted the total number claim, saying that 3,223 export-oriented apparel factories engaged in the apparel making process employ 2.56 million people in these factories.
Of this total, 1.49 million, or approximately 58.3 per cent are female.
ACD's survey also showed that about 15 per cent of households have at least one member suffering from chronic illness.
Among the chronic illnesses, the prevalence of asthma, long-term heart diseases, diabetes, blood pressure, long-term fever, injury or disability were common.
These households on average spend nearly Tk 970 per month for the treatment of chronic illness.
Why the change in labour force ratio
The changes in the female-to-male workers' proportion are probably linked to the changes in the structure of industries from woven to knit factories, Haque said.
A second important reason might be the higher level of human capital in male than in females.
With changes in technologies, factories are looking for more skilled workers, which has been proven to be a great opportunity for male workers.
A probable third reason can be that the increase in wages is attracting male workers with higher levels of education to seek these jobs, which in turn is increasing competitiveness in the job market, he added.
With the introduction of technological upgradation and sophisticated apparel manufacturing machinery, female workers are found to be comparatively less tech-savvy than men, which may suggest the decline in female workers' presence, said Arshad Jamal, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
“The fourth industrial revolution will impact education and also workers. To address these challenges, we have to take preparations where technical soundness will be a top priority,” said KM Abdus Salam, labour and employment secretary.
The apparel sector is one of the most promising sectors for creating jobs for unemployed youths.
Nearly 32 per cent of the workers were unemployed before joining the sector, whereas 28.5 per cent were students and about 6.8 per cent were housewives.
As such, nearly 68 per cent of them were not in any job before joining the sector. Hence, joining the garment sector is the first job for a large majority of workers.
Access to financial services
The ACD survey also revealed that nearly 67 per cent of the workers have their own bank accounts, while 31.7 per cent also have accounts in an agent banking system.
The agent/mobile banking system in Bangladesh provides regular banking services to their account holders through private agents who are generally located in convenient stores.
Besides, nearly 43 per cent of the workers also have accounts with bKash, a mobile-based money transfer service.
Nearly 62 per cent of the workers regularly remit money to their home, 82 per cent use mobile-based banking services and 15 per cent still use the person-to-person transfer of funds.